Amid recall effort, lingering budget problems and pandemic, Alaska Gov. Dunleavy will seek re-election

A white man in a black suit
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at the Capitol in Juneau in 2019. He announced this week that he’s filing for re-election. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

After a bruising first term that presented a major earthquake, a pandemic and legislative gridlock — plus a recall campaign against him — Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy says he’s running for reelection.

Dunleavy disclosed his bid in an interview Thursday with Alaska Public Media, saying he will run for governor again alongside his lieutenant governor, Kevin Meyer. And he shared the news with his cabinet at a subsequent dinner meeting.

In the interview, Dunleavy reflected on the challenges and lessons from his first term and offered his outlook on the pandemic, Alaska’s budget problems and other issues facing the state.

Listen to the interview here:

The discussion has been edited and condensed.

Alaska Public Media: How much work did it take to get your family and your wife on board for a second term?

Mike Dunleavy: Not a lot. I’m very fortunate that I’ve got three daughters and a wife that understand that if somebody wants to do something, you all pull together and you support that. I certainly would support them in their endeavors. And I do.

APM: In 2018, you ran on a platform that included statutory dividends, back dividends. The two PFDs we’ve gotten over the first two years of your term, were $1,600, $1,000, and to be determined this year, but probably not the full thing. How much responsibility do you accept for not delivering on that piece of your platform?

MD: I delivered by introducing bills that would have funded the PFD at the rate you just stated. I’ve worked with the Legislature to try and make sure that this happens. But you’ve got a very diverse Legislature, especially this year. It’s split almost down the middle in the House.

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APM: I think some people would say you have power and ability to get the Legislature to do what you want it to do. So, would you say that you could or should have done anything differently? Or do you think you had no ability to bring the Legislature around to where you were on the campaign trail?

MD: Well, the idea that you can dictate to the legislative body flies in the face of history and the construction of our government, to be honest with you. I present a budget, I put a budget together, I make the case. But oftentimes, politics gets in the way of coming up with good solutions.

APM: Your position on taxes has been that if we were going to have any new ones, they would need to be approved by voters. Do you still believe that?

MD: I do. We’ve put together a number of different revenue options for people to look at in the Legislature, but they’re the ones that have to come up with the options and the mix that they think will work if they need revenue. But, I’m not going to be excited about putting revenue into place unless there is a constitutional amendment that accompanies that. I believe that we need to protect the people from an overreaching government that will want to spend more than we take in.

APM: So, fair to say that if the Legislature advanced a form of a tax, would you veto it unless it was part of a constitutional amendment — either a spending cap or a requirement that voters approve the new taxes?

MD: I would not put it in law unless the constitutional amendments accompany that. And they need to go to the people.

APM: The first year of your term, there was a pretty significant backlash that came with the recall campaign around some of the aggressive things you did in your first year — namely, some of your proposed budget cuts and your vetoes, some of the actions with the court system. In retrospect, were some of those moves too aggressive?

MD: I would say that I could have communicated a lot more, I could have communicated to more groups. I made the assumption that people understood there was a budget problem. I made the assumption that people could see the math. That was a mistake on my part. I could have communicated differently. But we had a $1.6 billion budget deficit back then.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters at a January 2020 fundraiser. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

APM: I would disagree with you on that point — I think that Alaskans just didn’t support some of the things you did. It wasn’t about communicating about them — they knew exactly what they were, and they were angry.

You thought that Alaskans wanted us to preserve the PFD, and to reduce government. And it turned out that they didn’t want that. Would you agree with that?

MD: I wouldn’t agree that they don’t want the PFD. But I would agree that they wanted to preserve government.

Related: Candidate Dunleavy said he had no plans to cut ferries, schools, university. Then Gov. Dunleavy proposed deep reductions.

APM: More so than you expected?

MD: More so than I had thought at the time. I would say that, to an extent, that’s true. And I think that’s reflected in how we conduct business going forward. I believe Alaskans want value in their government.

Certainly, the pushback on the budget was real — I’m not denying that. And that’s why we’re still struggling today, because Alaska is split on how to deal with the budget and how to deal with the fiscals going forward.

APM: How much thought did you give to running for U.S. Senate instead of for governor?

MD: Very little, if at all. I really don’t want to go to Washington. I really love staying in Alaska.

APM: On COVID, in the past, Anchorage’s city government was considerably more strict when it came to questions around business and capacity limits, masks and things like that. There’s a new mayoral administration that doesn’t have those same beliefs, and we are seeing pretty high numbers and some pretty significant concerns about hospital capacity. How confident do you feel that the state or the city or are not going to have to take stricter measures to keep things manageable?

Related: COVID is spiking and hospitals are filling up. But Alaska leaders aren’t bringing back mandates.

MD: It really is up to individuals, at this point. There’s nothing preventing anyone from getting a vaccination, especially if they want one. And I would urge those that have put it off to rethink that. I’m pretty confident that folks that want to get a vaccine can easily get one and, for those that don’t, I would just urge them to be cautious, safe, and be prepared that they may get ill.

APM: Are you over it?

MD: Meaning what?

APM: Just, like, the virus being something you have to deal with.

MD: A lot of us would like to be over it. We’re going to have to get back to living sooner than later. And I’ll just make a comment: I mean, the idea of restrictions and masks and so forth, you can’t continue to live like this — you turn it into an existence, as opposed to a life. People just have to understand that life is full of risks. None of us makes it out of this eventually. And we just have to use appropriate precautions, whether it’s helmets, whether it’s a life preserver, whether it’s a vaccine — it’s up to individuals to make those decisions.

APM: Earlier this week, the United Nations released a big scientific report on climate change. Its chief called it a “code red for humanity.” It says there’s no remaining scientific doubt that humans are feeling climate change, and that the planet is facing catastrophic impacts without dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. How urgent of a problem do you see global warming as being for Alaska right now?

MD: So, there’s a lot that you packed into that statement. You said that the U.N. report says there’s no room for what on science?

NBH: They say that it’s unequivocal.

MD: Then they need to make sure that all of the scientists agree with them, because there are some that don’t. Now, with that said, if you believe in the different epochs in the world’s history, ice ages, then no ice ages, then very warm periods of time, it would appear that, you know, we’ve come out of the Pleistocene, which means we’ve warmed considerably. We’re in what they refer to as the Holocene, is where we are now. Does that mean that it’s not continuing to get warmer? Some would say it appears to. I’m not trying to sidestep this, but it’s like the virus: There are differing opinions.

APM: I don’t really want it to debate the scientific consensus, because I don’t think that’s productive. What I’m asking is: how serious of a problem is this for Alaska and Alaskans?

MD: The sea ice used to protect our coasts, the north and the west, from winds, waves and erosion. If we don’t have sea ice, we’re going to see more waves and erosion that could be problematic, and it is becoming problematic in places like Shishmaref. So, I would say that with less ice to protect those communities, they become subject to more impact by by the weather and by waves. Yes, it’s a problem.

APM: I mean, where is it on your list of priorities?

MD: It’s in the mix of about 100 priorities that we have to deal with almost on a daily basis. As you know, I have started a genuine renewable initiative to take advantage of the lower cost in technologies, whether it’s solar, wind, etc. I think we have tremendous opportunities here in Alaska for tidal in Cook Inlet, like no other place in the world.

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